“The sun was low in the skies as they took a short cut through the meadows, and crossed a stile into the avenue leading to the archway– a lurid, heavy-looking, ominous sun-set, and a deathly stillness in the air, which frightened the birds that had a mind to sing, and left the field open to a few captious frogs croaking in the ditches,” (Braddon 67).
I believe Braddon is intentionally presenting the Audley Court as the underworld. It is grand (the underworld is often associated with jewels and wealth) but eerily still, with a literally “deathly” lack of movement. The sun-set (note that the sun is going down, leaving the world in darkness and bringing out the predators and fears of the night) is “lurid, heavy-looking, ominous…” and leaves behind it none of the suggestions of life or vitality that are often coupled with sun imagery– in fact, Braddon gives us the opposite. The “short cut” and “meadows” that George and Robert take suggest danger (short cuts make long delays, Persephone is stolen in a meadow) that great mythological heroes often face when straying from assigned paths (Odysseus, Theseus, etc.). The “archway” that Braddon describes is a symbol associated with the underworld (see images below). The implication of presenting Audley Court as such just as our “hero” (George) and his friend (Robert) makes it clear that this will be the end of the current phase for them. It also implies that the inhabitants (Lady Audley) are not so innocent or lively as they intentionally present themselves as being.
Link: (0:46-End) Sirius Black death: passes through archway